Spot the Fake


or Playing Poison with Genesis 1

You know how it is when you read one of your favourite theologians and they come up with a real clanger? It’s yes, wow, yes, I’m with you, and then the train of thought jumps the tracks—at least as far as you, the reader, are concerned. It’s like me reading a good Presbyterian who without any warning flies off the wall and marries chalk and cheese to prove the Bible teaches infant baptism. Or it’s you reading this blog watching me fly off the wall every now and then (but it’s all completely logical in my mind—believe me! Bully is never wrong!)

Anyhow, J. L. Vaughan, a “Covenant Creationist” on the AV forum pointed out this article by Brian Godawa, who is both a theologian and a screenwriter. I have featured Brian’s articles on the Abrahamic Covenant, Matthew 24 and Daniel 9 on my old The Last Days page. He is logical and easy to understand. And he’s a preterist. But then he jumps the tracks (as far as I’m concerned) and goes and parrots this drivel:

The literary conventions employed in Genesis chapter 1 mark it out, not as a scientific document describing material origins, but as a literary polemic against surrounding ancient Near Eastern pagan religions. This interpretation divests the text from any obligation to communicate “accurate science” to the modern reader. Genesis 1 is a theological-political document that has nothing to do with science as the modern reader understands it. Creation language here and elsewhere in Scripture is not about establishing scientific origins of material substance and structure but about covenantal establishment and worldview. [1]

Where is the textual or historical evidence for Genesis being a polemic against anything? Is it addressed to the Hebrews in the wilderness? Or does it instead show signs that it was recorded generation by generation from the beginning?

I am not a scientist. I am a professional storyteller. My interests lie in understanding the literary genres and cultural contexts of the Bible as it existed within an ancient Near Eastern worldview that included common metaphors, images and concepts. As readers displaced from such an ancient world by time, space, and culture, we will misread the text through our own cultural prejudice if we do not seek to understand it through the eyes of its original writers and readers. Creation stories (cosmogonies) are particularly vulnerable to this kind of interpretive violence.

The literary conventions, the chiastic structures and the Covenant pattern, do not support this false dichotomy whatsoever. The Bible does not separate symbol and history. These factors actually demonstrate that the physical Creation itself is both Word and Covenant.

A literal reading is cultural prejudice? Basically, the readers of Genesis, until modern evolutionary fantasies, believed it recorded the Creation of the universe out of nothing. It’s the moderns who are guilty of the interpretive GBH. Their theories concerning the text’s origin and purpose have no support, either internal or external. Not a shred. They are just a convenient construction.

On the same site, Peter Enns shows where his faith lies when he lists reasons why Genesis can’t be taken literally, ie. he bows obediently to pop-science and pop-history, which are constantly in flux and based on a faulty paradigm manufactured to free science from Moses. [2]

The biblical depiction of human origins, if taken literally, presents Adam as the very first human being ever created. He was not the product of an evolutionary process, but a special creation of God a few thousand years before Jesus—roughly speaking, about 6000 years ago. Every single human being that has ever lived can trace his/her genetic history to that one person. This is a problem because it is at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains.

A strictly literal reading of the Adam story does not fit with what we know of the past. Some choose to ignore the data altogether. Others marginalize or interpret the data idiosyncratically to salvage some type of literal/historical reading. But, by and large, everyone—even including this latter group—has to do some creative thinking about how to handle the Adam story. A “just read it literally” mentality is not an available option. “What do I do with the Adam story?” is a real and pressing question for most people of faith. [3]

Perhaps these people should be taking a closer look at their faith? At least he’s honest about the text, and his reasons for misreading it. Enns goes on to discuss the problem of Paul’s extremely inconvenient belief in a literal Adam, and concludes, logically, that

The tensions between science and faith, specifically evolution and Christianity, center on the issue of Paul’s Adam. As such, I think this is where our theological energies need to be invested.

Yes, we must find a way to mix chalk and cheese. What he really means is that Paul disagrees with Peter Enns’ pitiable compromise on Genesis, and so we must now employ our capricious and schizophrenic hermeneutic to deconstruct Paul in the same manner. But then, according to Brian, God was just speaking through a man who was thoroughly “enculturated,” surely? Oh, sorry. We can’t apply the same criteria to the New Testament writers, can we.

James Jordan gets it right. He believes these gents have a twofold process to get to what they think Genesis is really about, since they refuse to acknowledge its actual clarity:

  1. Filter the Bible through the baalism of modern science, which, very agreeably, dislodges it from history.
  2. Filter it again through the “conflict with chaos” baalism of the ancients.

He concludes that this is just the same as 19th century liberalism. Not that we would want to call anyone names.

Godawa summarises his paper with a paragraph that can be boiled down thusly:

  1. Genesis 1 follows a pattern that occurs later in Scripture.
  2. The later patterns are not ex nihilo Creation, so neither is Genesis 1, ie. God is just moving stuff around that was already old, and giving it new Covenantal meaning by naming it.

This is the same logic one would use to prove that the real Mona Lisa is a forgery because it looks like the paintings in a room full of confiscated fake Mona Lisas. Mind-numbingly brilliant logic, I must say.

There’s also a video of N. T. Wright on the BioLogos website in which he states that Americans are wrong to link the fight over Creationism with social issues. [4] Now that is a real hall-of-fame, win-the-teddy clanger. It’s amazing how very bright people often overlook the obvious. I bet he baptizes babies, too.

[1] Brian Godawa, Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant [PDF]  Brian quotes John Sailhamer a lot. See Jordan on Sailhamer beginning here.
[2] See Tas Walker’s review of The Dating Game for how the establishment of the earth’s age really was a game. Spin the wheel.
[3] Peter Enns, Paul’s Adam Part I
[4] See Tas Walker’s Peace with Evolution for some clear thinking on this.

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7 Responses to “Spot the Fake”

  • Kelby Carlson Says:

    An area where I respectfully disagree with you.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    How about an orderly, respectful online debate? Might be good for both of us – and a lot of fun.

  • Kelby Carlson Says:

    We could try it. Though I am growing to incresingly hate blog debates–but some of it is probably my fault. I dash off a comment quickly and put little thought into how my words might be interpreted.

    Further, I’m really not in expert in this topic to fully debate it. I’ve ocme to the conclusion based on the evidence I understand, but I feel my conclusion is my own (which is why I tend not to get into serious discussion.) I almost feel it isn’t worth talking about, especially since i agree with you (and others) on so much else. I don’t think it is a fundamental issue. But if you’d still like to go at it, this high school student wouldn’t say no.

  • Drew Says:

    Could you elaborate on your comment that “The Bible does not separate symbol and history”?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    No. I nicked it from Rich on the BH list.

    Seriously, the physical world is symbolic in nature. Everything speaks because everything is Word. Joseph and Daniel were real people but they were also symbols of the coming Christ.

    So the material world of Genesis 1 has symbolic significance. The 7 speeches concerning the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-31 follow the same pattern. The Tabernacle is a new world in miniature. Christ is now the Temple. He is the new world in miniature. As His body we will construct a new world by doing His will on earth as it is in heaven.

    We can’t say Genesis 1 isn’t history just because it follows a symbolic pattern. Israel’s history itself follows this pattern, with their greatest kings at the centre as the “governing lights.” What do these liberals have to say to that? Is the story of David and Solomon a polemic against the Gentile kings of the day? Even the various sections of their stories follow the same structure (although they also allude to many of its occurrences since Genesis 1. A lot gets built upon that foundation along the way.)

    Hope that helps.

  • Drew Says:

    But there are various prophecies that I wonder about the literality of. For example, when the Bible talks about the moon turning red and mountains melting away and all that, do you think those images will become reality at some point around judgement day?

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Good question. The main thing to understand is the centralised worship as a microcosmic “mountain of God.” When you see de-Creation language, it is the end of a Covenant – until of course we do get to the end of the age. Stars are governors. Mountains are altars. Swarms are armies. In Revelation, “men” are Jews.

    What the Covenant Creationists won’t get is that this process beings with the physical cosmos as “house” and whittles its way down to one man, Jesus, as “house”. Then it works its way back out again to the physical cosmos as a renewed “house”.

    See A New Heavens and a New Earth: